Philadelphia, unlike its cousin cities of Boston and New York, shines as the east coast’s city of blocks. The moment I stepped foot into downtown, the familiar number-system of streets rendered me to depend more on road signs than my faulty and dying Samsung smartphone. Between the airport and University City, suburbs and swamp-like environments abound. Upon entering University City, where Drexel and UPenn are situated, the skyline of Philly presents itself in full clarity. University City essentially acted as the gateway to the heart of William Penn’s city.
Airport officials told me to have cash on hand for the airport line train through downtown Philadelphia. Cash? On the train? No ticket? No tap card? No venmo (just kidding, most trains don’t use venmo from my knowledge, at least)? Wit cash on hand, I entered the airport line (an easy transition; it’s a part of the airport) and took a seat. The cash scene was conspicuous. The ticket clerk had rolls of bills in his pocket, waiting for the twenty dollar bills and to exchange large sums of change. Frequently, the clerk would ask passengers “Do you have a dollar?”. To me, without knowing the ticket prices, I assumed a ticket or trip cost either $6 or $16, for if passenger had a 5 or 20 dollar bill, they could put in an extra one dollar to receive change in at least a couple of $5 bills rather than four $1 bills. I guess there was not much else to think about on a train in Pennsylvania.
I walked from Jefferson Station to Temple University, which is about a 1.8 mile walk (about 40 minutes of walking). Thankfully, the ticket clerk did not charge me for the ride; he was too busy chatting up front with other passengers, and I got out early enough to avoid his attention. The walk between Jefferson Station and Temple mostly included block houses and local establishments and prominent African American communities (I bought a newspaper, called the Philadelphia Tribune, for $1. It is a newspaper directed to African American audiences). The scene changed nearly 180 degrees as I approached Temple University’s perimeters. Temple University is a part of Philadelphia, yet it has its own urban vibe and logistical setups (such as 2 train stations and large building blocks. Look up Morgan Hall).
Philadelphia may not be appealing to some, yet it has some hidden treasures (like its convention center and the Temple University community, and those huge Greek Parthenon structures at University City, etc.) and it is easy to traverse. One has to look beyond Philly’s overcast skies and block buildings to appreciate its diverse landscape (yes, it is a very diverse city), its cultural capital (at one point Philly was going to be the U.S. capital) and its reminders to visitors and residents alike that a city is meant to be your friend, not your foe. It takes a bit of walking, talking, and listening to know the city, which is analogous to learning about a friend or stranger. Keep asking questions, and you will get your answers.